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Sutton Trust Report

Miranda shares her thoughts on the recent Sutton Trust Report. 

‘How wonderful Oscar, you closed the door!'

'Well done you for showing respect and appreciation for energy conservation. Jake, I saw you at the bin, sharpening your pencil and not elbowing Lee-anne in the face -  good for you for concentrating on remembering your social student goals. I’m so proud of you.'

‘Can I just say that there’s one golden child in the class who wasn’t laughing at that trump we all heard just now. They know who they are; and they know that they have just made me very happy!’

The Sutton Trust has just launched a report grounded in 200 pieces of other research, on what makes a great teacher. They found that the quality of the teacher’s communication, and their subject knowledge had the most impact on academic achievement, with negligible evidence for the impact of a hefty praise culture.  

It’s not that I don’t believe in praise – I can still remember every well-considered piece of praise I have ever been given in primary school. Possibly because in those days there weren’t many, but probably because they were meaningful to me and not an empty stream of words that passed over my head, not unlike the blah, blah, blah, blah,  blah of Peppermint Patty and Charlie Brown’s teachers. I remember praise that related to subjects I was interested in or personal qualities that already chimed with what was important to me.

What I am uneasy about is teaching methods that advocate a lavish stream of never-ending praise for not very much; leaving teachers with nowhere to go (or no one to listen) when there are genuine break-throughs in  a child’s learning and development.  Ever sat through one of those praise assemblies where there’s an hour or so of golden certificates handed out to robotic applause in an environment where every single person in the room has sunk into a semi-conscious state?

What made me want to work hard for a teacher was encouragement, warmth and the feeling that I was understood as an individual, as well as the knowledge that I was going to be allowed to make some mistakes without ‘getting done.’ I was shy, I didn’t want to be singled out in front of class mates for any reason at all – positive or negative.

I think praise is motivating if:

1) It is personalised for individuals.

2) It is presented as part of a motivating classroom environment, where children also enjoy imaginative and stimulating lessons with well-considered feedback for their learning efforts.

3) Is part of a culture that also ‘takes for granted’ that kindness, trying your best, and good behaviour, are the bottom line anyway.

Luckily, at the chalk face, we are about far more than just academic achievement. Any teacher who has ever worked in an environment where families are struggling to make ends meet; and where social and housing problems are ungluing the community, will know that a barrage of praise at school can be a weapon against low self-worth, diminished aspirations and the lethargy or anger they may be catalyst to. 

Hyperbole is a weapon commonly used in schools to disarm disruptive behaviour and show pupils with challenging behaviour that there is an escape route out of unhelpful cycles. Praise in a warzone is praise indeed. Praise is powerful and needs not to be treated lightly or scattered indiscriminately, irrespective of its academic results.

You can find more on the Sutton Trust Report here. If you would like to share your views please email Megan (mparsons@protocol-education.com). 


Tags: Miranda, Manchester, NQT, supply

Category: Australian Teachers


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